Nearly half a century ago, Don Francisco created a legend in his extravagant Spanish-language Saturday variety show “Sabado Gigante.”
The Chilean-born TV show host, whose real name is Mario Kreutzberger, fronts the world’s longest-running variety show, as certified by the Guinness Book of World Records. “Sabado Gigante,” which airs on Univision, has been broadcast every week since August 1962.
Kreutzberger is the son of Jews who fled Nazi Germany. They landed in Chile when they couldn't get visas for the United States or their second choice, Argentina.
At age 20, Kreutzberger came to New York to study design at the behest of his father, who wanted him to be a famous men’s clothing designer. There he discovered a new passion — television.
"I came to the Stanford Hotel at 32nd and Broadway — without the language. I came into the room, and I saw a radio set with glass in the middle, and you pushed the middle and it was a radio with images," Kreutzberger told The Times in 2001. "Then I realized the future was the television, and somebody else would have to be a men's clothing designer."
He returned to Chile and began pitching himself to producers until he landed a gig hosting a variety show.
He chose Don Francisco as his professional name, taking the stage name of an old comic from a Santiago nightclub.
His show launched in 1962 under the title “Omnibus.” It was later rescheduled from Sunday to Saturday and retitled “Sabado Gigante” — “Giant Saturday.” The show spanned eight hours every week. When Kreutzberger brought the show to the United States in 1986, executives chopped it down to four hours.
The show’s guests have included entertainers — such as Ricky Martin and Gloria Estefan — and presidential candidates.